LOS ANGELES - New data shows Black residents in Los Angeles County have the highest rates of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths, according to LA County Public Health Director, Dr. Barbara Ferrer.
Dr. Ferrer said overall COVID rates in the county remain low, but said lagging vaccination rates within the Black community is leading to Black residents surpassing the Latino community in the number of cases for the first time since the pandemic began.
"Those that are not vaccinated are at the highest risk of getting COVID-19 infections and that's what we're seeing in the Black community here in South Los Angeles, where for example, the members of the Black community have higher rates of infection than in the LatinX community. We absolutely know this is scary for a lot of us. There's a lot of trepidation, anxiety, and panic around this but we're here to really make you feel comfortable," said Dr. Jerry Abraham, the Director of Kedren vaccines for Kedren Health in South Los Angeles.
Dr. Abraham noted the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on Black and Latino men.
"When you look at Black and Brown men, the rates are even lower. We've got a long way to go. LatinX and Black men have died disproportionately at 2 to 300 percent more the rates of other people. That's not fair. That's injustice. That's racial injustice and the way to calm that is to get men vaccinated, particularly Black and Brown men who have very low vaccination rates in our community," said Abraham.
According to county figures, as of May 15, Black residents had a 14-day cumulative infection rate of 45 per 100,000 residents, well above the 26 per 100,000 Latino/a residents, 24 for white residents and 11 for Asians.
The higher case rate naturally translated to Black residents also leading the way in hospitalization rates and in the 14-day cumulative death rate, a 1.06 per 100,000 residents -- double the rate for Latinos and triple that for Asians and whites.
The new data comes as the state continues to push its landmark $116.5 million incentive program.
Starting Thursday, anyone across California who gets their first dose and goes on to their second dose or receives one dose through the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will receive a $50 gift card from the state. Those cards will be either a prepaid MasterCard or grocery store gift cards for Kroger or Albertsons markets. Also, anyone who has received at least one dose of vaccine in the state by June 4 will be entered into a drawing for $50,000 in cash. Fifteen winners will be selected, followed by another 15 on June 11 for people receiving at least one dose by that date. Then on June 15, the state will draw the names of 10 vaccinated residents who will each receive $1.5 million.
"We're super excited about the incentives that the Governor announced and we are excited about the plans from the California Department of Public health and Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. That really goes a long way for people that are maybe just waiting a moment, just need that extra nudge. There are people who are absolutely refusing these vaccines and those that are hesitant, those that are reluctant but for some maybe it's just that little extra nudge that gets them off the couch and into a vaccine center," said Abraham.
Dr. Joy Ekwueme, one of the Medical Directors for Novaxis Healthcare, said the incentives are working in some communities.
"The data shows that since these incentive programs took place, there has been an increase in the number of people showing up to get the vaccines. More young people are also showing up to get the vaccines. Unfortunately our demographic in the minority populations are still lagging behind. One of the reasons is addressing the root cause of vaccine hesitancy. There are still a lot of questions," she said.
Dr. Ekwueme said she receives questions from residents and breaks down the science of the vaccine to patients, including how the mRNA technology has been around for decades. She points to the original scientist of the mRNA technology, Dr. Katalin Kariko.
"And just to play a bit of devil's advocate, I say we have other medications like Viagra and Tylenol and I don't see you asking me what's inside of it, or the long term effects. This is why I really encourage digging in and having these grassroots conversations with people because then you're able to talk to them on a human level," said Ekweume.
Los Angeles resident, Gayle Robinson, received a vaccination from Kedren employees Friday, and said he did not do it because of the announced incentives.
"I always thought that it was important to get vaccinated. I was just hesitant because I didn't have a lot of people in my family talking about getting vaccinated. The incentives, it's cool, but just being vaccinated and knowing you're gonna be safe in the event that you do catch it or whatever is incentive enough for me," said Robinson.
Robinson believes access is key to improving vaccination rates in minority communities.
"It helps being at the schools and being places where we frequent and easy to just walk in like I did and get the shot. If it's any harder than that, they're gonna have a big problem," said Robinson.
The Kedren health team uses its mobile vaccine clinic to go directly into neighborhoods to promote education, and get people vaccinated.
In Los Angeles County this week, anybody who gets vaccinated at a county or city-run site through June 3 will be entered into a drawing for a chance to win season tickets to either the L.A. Kings or L.A. Galaxy. People vaccinated at St. John's Well Child and Family Center sites will also be entered into that drawing. The drawing is open to anyone who receives their first dose, or brings someone with them on their second-dose appointment.